The Age Old Question

Maggie-GyllenhaalSometimes when watching a show or movie at home, I will look people up on the IMDB.  One of my curiosities is to look up actors and actresses in the lead roles who are supposed to be a couple in the film and show and see what kind of age difference there is.  Often, the age difference is pretty large.  Only in the last few years have I recalled seeing pairings of equal ages(within five years of each other).

But it is overwhelmingly in the direction that a couple with a large age gap in film and television being an older guy and younger woman.  On the occasion where it is an older woman and a younger man?  It tends to be the point of the film.  This is, of course, not some new observation I am making.  I am not under any illusion that I stumbled on something.

Just this past May, Maggie Gyllenhall (six years younger than me) told about how she was told she was not getting a role because at 37, she was too old to be the love interest for a 55 year old actor.  If you look through the IMDB, you will actually find that plenty of actresses have no age or birthday listed.  Gyllenhall’s story underscores there are probably good reasons for not including Ages.  If a casting director looks you up on the IMDB?  They cannot simply look at age and pass.

There is a long  standing tradition that it is rude to ask a woman her age.  It is not actually rude…but our patriarchal system has put the greatest emphasis women have to offer is their youth and beauty.The cold hard truth is there is no good reason to demand a romantic interest in a movie be played by a 24 year old when the lead male is Jack Nicholson.  The fact that this is still the norm is proof as to how far we have not come in roles for women in Hollywood.

mirren-loreal_shootPeople talk about how great Helen Mirren looks in a bikini at 70, pat themselves on the back for being supposedly not ageist and hire 27 year old Emma Stone or 25 year old Jennifer Lawrence to play 40 year old Bradley Cooper’s love interest.  The thing is, you know what Helen Mirren brings to film?  Not a great bikini body, but tremendous acting talent.  Emma and Jennifer are attractive, but they are more talented than to be treated as the eye candy for older actor’s arms.  And the larger the gap, the more it can just feel creepy.

It is time to stop telling women their age is the enemy.  Film and television can help by choosing age appropriate actresses for their leading men more than they do not.  Because there are certainly cases where you might be telling the tale of an age gap.  But if that is not part of the plot, if your lead just happens to be dating or married to someone ten years his junior, maybe rethink that.  You seem very conscious of who you pair older women up with, Hollywood (just how often are Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench paired up with male leads in their 30’s or 40’s?).  Show that conscientious attitude with your male leads.  You might be surprised.

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